Testing for toxic algae begins along Columbia River

The Benton-Franklin Health District will be using a new tool that will help in responding to toxic algae situations in the Tri-Cities.
Columbia River in Pasco, WA
Columbia River in Pasco, WA.

KENNEWICK – The Benton-Franklin Health District has started testing sites along the Columbia River for signs of toxic algae. The health district is using a new tool that can detect toxins in the water and help officials be more proactive in getting information to the public.

The BFHD Water Lab, based in Kennewick, is using a new testing kit, called ELISA. ELISA is a plate reader and a testing kit that can detect toxins from algae blooms in lakes and rivers. The tool also allows the BFHD keep a routine testing schedule of multiple sample sites. This testing can be done here in the Tri-Cities without having to be sent out of Benton or Franklin Counties.

ELISA can test water samples with less than one drop from the testing site. However, the BFHD collects just under nine ounces from the six testing sites to ensure there is enough water to complete the testing. The BFHD can get results in less than 48 hours.

This testing comes after the fall of 2021 when the BFHD found a high occurrence of toxic algae in the Columbia River. This was discovered after it was reported pets died after being exposed while in the water. During this time, testing equipment was not available in the Tri-Cities and the BFHD had to send its samples to King County. The BFHD said the King County Environmental Lab worked with local leaders to make ELISA available to the Tri-Cities.

Rick Dawson, who is the senior manager of surveillance and investigations for the BFHD, said King County not only helped the health district push for funding, it also helped train local lab staff to analyze ELISA’s data. The cities of Kennewick, Pasco, Richland and West Richland are also on board; the cities have placed signage along the shorelines of the Columbia River to warn people about the potential for toxic algae.

“You can’t tell by looking at water if toxins are present or not,” Dawson said. “Know that there is a risk any time we are in open water. The best thing you can do is be aware of your surroundings and look for information about where you are.”

If you would like to be updated on if toxic algae has been located along the shorelines of the Columbia River, click here. The BFHD has an interactive map that is tracking toxic algae across the state in open bodies of water.